If there is anything that springs to mind at the word ‘tundra’, it is probably something cold.
Not always it turns out. And definitely not in Australia.
Spot the difference between Australia and my usual field site in December
This December I found myself, somewhat to my surprise, burying tea bags at the top of the Australian Alps. This arose almost entirely due to the enthusiasm and generosity of Susanna Venn, one of the tundra tea bag experiment team members based at Australia National University. Though of course, no trip to anywhere is complete without fitting in a little research!
We set out on the long drive to the mountains with an enviable research team spread out across the three cars. Two university researchers, three PhD students, two Honours students, two very enthusiastic boys and 150 tea bags.
Although perhaps a little unexpected given the thirty-something degree heat, the Alps were indeed very similar to the tundra environments I was more used to working in. Low shrubs, grasses and alpine flowers, their whites and yellows just beginning to fade. Snow patch communities emerging from recently melted snows. Frost hollows marking out a very different landscape from the recovering snow gums lining the slopes below. All in all a perfect environment to test our hypotheses.
The main aim of the tundra tea bag experiment is to see whether variation in decomposition across tundra environments is greater than variation explained by differences in tea type. Where better then, than a completely different site on the other side of the world. Here, summers are longer and hotter (a lot hotter). The vegetation is completely different, so may be soil nutrients, and potentially moisture is a more critical factor to decomposition rate. Time will tell!
After digging in the tea we took the time to do a little exploring, admiring the views and getting more than a little sunburnt, then back to the cabin for a cuppa.
Thanks all involved and I look forward the results!